Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Just As Well

Church members were multitasking this weekend. While some were feeding the masses---okay, about 60---in Redwood City there were pumpkin carving and haunted-house-building for the kids.

When we returned from Redwood City the Halloween party was winding down. Just as well--the doc says I don't need any more sugar.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Too Stupid to Understand

The President...shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment. --Article II, Section 2
Any non-lawyer like myself could read the above sentence from the U.S. Constitution and conclude that the President has an absolute ("plenary") power to grant pardons "except in cases of impeachment". (Hence your humble blogger made a somewhat fanciful post nearly three months ago that President Trump could preemptively pardon everyone who could be interviewed by Special Counsel Mueller, thereby de-fanging the whole investigation without firing Mr. Mueller.)

Baker, Hostetler attorneys Lee Casey and David Rivkin support such sweeping use of the pardon power: [bold added]
Mr. Trump can end this madness by immediately issuing a blanket presidential pardon to anyone involved in supposed collusion with Russia or Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign, to anyone involved with Russian acquisition of an American uranium company during the Obama administration, and to anyone for any offense that has been investigated by Mr. Mueller’s office.
Not everyone accepts this interpretation. Democratic Representative Adam Schiff:
The president cannot pardon people if it's an effort to obstruct justice, if it's an effort to prevent Bob Mueller and others from learning about the President's own conduct. So, there are limitations.
Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds proposes indirect constraints through transparency and disclosure:
Archiving: A requirement that presidential pardons be recorded with the National Archive....

Explanation: Congress might require that pardons include a short and clear explanation of the reason for the pardon....

Accounting: The Archivist might maintain an index of pardons by crimes and circumstances.
Like the priests of old, lawyers and judges are required as interpreters of Holy writ because we're too stupid to understand that the words on the page don't mean what they say.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Chalk Up Another Success

The ingredients for baked chicken and rice with cream of
mushroom soup. Induction heating used for browning.
One advantage of cooking for charity is that I can experiment---nothing radical, mind, because these are fellow human beings!---making crowd-sized dishes. In the past I’ve tinkered around the edges by modifying spice and herb marinades, browned meats (or didn’t), and added various vegetables and cheeses to salads. No one’s yet complained.

This morning I tested whether induction heating could adequately brown the chicken for Sandwiches on Sunday.

The drumsticks were marinated overnight, then browned.
Digression: our old coiled cooktop is dying, so we’ve been looking at radiant-heat and induction smoothtops. I’m intrigued by the latter’s safety and heating features but am convinced that manufacturers are charging a premium—none cost under $1,000—because induction sounds like advanced technology though it really isn’t. Costco is selling a portable unit, including a steel pot, for $70, and I leapt at the chance to try out the technology before making a large financial commitment.

Clara, Marge, and Susan serve their regular customers
Because nonstick cookware won’t work on an induction plate, one does have to sauté with a generous dollop of oil. The pan heated quickly, and both chopped onions and chicken browned nicely at only a medium setting. I laid the drumsticks on top of a mixture of rice, onion, water, and cream-of-mushroom soup, covered it with foil, and baked for two hours at 325 degrees. The dish had to stay in a warm oven for another two hours, but one advantage of dark meat is that it doesn’t dry out when overcooked

They finished it all, and no one complained, so chalk up another success.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Looking Green

The sod is taking root. The fescue is at the length where we would normally cut, but we won't mow for another week to aid implantation.

Looks like we got it down just in time for the November rains.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Talking Past Each Other

(WSJ gif)
Alan Jacobs, who is a member of both groups, asks, Can Evangelicals and Academics Talk to Each Other? [bold added]:
I have spent decades trying to figure out how these pervasive misunderstandings arise and looking for ways to correct them. But they are very hard to combat, because academics and Christians (like the rest of us) treasure their enmities. And where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Sixty years ago the italicized phrase above would have been instantly recognized by most Americans, including non-Christians, as a saying by Jesus (specifically, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6).

The disappearance of a common vocabulary is one cause of the divide. Today there is little overlap between the language of the academy and the church. (Having read Fanon, Marcuse, Mills, and Goffman in college I have a passing familiarity with the former, and being a cradle Episcopalian takes care of the latter.)

But hatred is easy and, yes, pleasurable, while understanding is hard work.
the phrase “repugnant cultural other” (RCO) neatly describes one of the most common impediments to thinking rationally about those with whom we disagree.

For many academics, evangelical Christians are the RCO; for many evangelical Christians, academics play that role. And having an RCO is one of the best ways to form and maintain group identity. Recent research by the political scientists Shanto Iyengar and Sean J. Westwood indicate that, in terms of social belonging, “outgroup animosity is more consequential than favoritism for the ingroup.” That is, it’s more important to hate the RCO than to affirm and support the people who agree with you. How do I know you’re One of Us? Because you hate the right people.
Learning another language is always difficult, and it won't happen on a large scale unless there's an economic incentive to do so.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

No Brakes

(Graphic from University of Cambridge)
Discoveries are generally greeted with cheer, but, if the invention is powerful enough the reaction is often fear (for example, Oppenheimer's reaction when he witnessed the destructive force of the first nuclear explosion).

We may be facing such a turning point in history with the development of artificial intelligence, married with the speed of quantum computing. To this humble blogger it's not at all comforting that the leader in quantum computing is Google, possessor of one of the largest data troves on individual behavior.
In a small lab outside Santa Barbara, Calif., stocked with surfboards, wetsuits and acoustic guitars, [physicist Hartmut] Neven and two dozen Google physicists and engineers are harnessing quantum mechanics to build a computer of potentially astonishing power. A reliable, large-scale quantum computer could transform industries from AI to chemistry, accelerating machine learning and engineering new materials, chemicals and drugs.

“If this works, it will change the world and how things are done,” says physicist Vijay Pande, a partner at Silicon Valley venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, which has funded quantum-computing start-up Rigetti Computing.
Two years ago Google changed its corporate motto from "Don't be evil" to "Do the right thing." Two comments: 1) the history of the world is replete with villains--even mass murderers--who thought they were doing the right thing. 2) I much prefer an ethic of restraint--not to do evil--than one that purports to guide the powerful, for who really will tell them what they're doing is wrong?

It's a new generation who may not be familiar with Lord Acton:
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Government, Regulate Thyself

SF International School water fountains
after lead testing (Chronicle photo)
Yesterday's post was about asbestos concerns. If I had a child about to enter school (as does my acquaintance), I'd be much more worried about lead in the school drinking water.

Chronicle: 3 San Francisco public schools show high levels of lead in water.
District officials immediately shut down the taps and this week notified parents at West Portal and Malcolm X elementary schools and San Francisco International High School that water samples from at least one faucet or fountain at each site were too high — or above the recommended federal threshold of 15 parts per billion...

The water flowing into the school is safe, officials say. The lead is in the plumbing — the fixtures and pipe solders — and leaches into the water.
Average SF home price from Zillow.
Since antiquity lead has been suspected as a cause of brain damage. In the latter half of the 20th century plumbers and builders reduced the use of lead until it was banned by the Safe Water Drinking Act of 1986.

With some of the highest home prices--and property tax revenues per capita in the nation--one would think that San Francisco would have addressed this problem long ago. But one would be wrong.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Information Costs and Benefits

The line between hypochondria and health fanaticism has been blurred for a long time. From the Foundations of Personality, 1922:
The faddy habits [hypochondriacs] form are the sustenance of those who start the varied forms of vegetarianism, chewing cults, fresh-air fiends, wet-grass fanatics, back-to-nature societies, and the mild lunacies of our (and every) age.
A 1-sq-inch sample (in bag) was sufficient for testing.
An acquaintance is very health-conscious and insisted that a ceiling repair be tested for asbestos, which had been used in post-war construction and is a known carcinogen.

[Aside: according to a conversation I had with an expert, California banned the purchase of asbestos in 1976.

Lobby display
A grandfather clause made it theoretically possible for a contractor who made a large purchase of asbestos-containing material in 1976 to still be using this inventory in 1984, when the subject building was constructed. Such a contractor who possessed such poor inventory management would be unlikely to be in business 8 years later, but the acquaintance insisted that the materials be tested].

And so it was that your humble blogger, who had a business interest in the matter, found himself in Berkeley to have the ceiling tile analyzed. As expected, the materials were asbestos-free.

The result was good, but even prior to the excursion I knew that the half-day trip wasn't worth the time and expense. (I wouldn't have gone if it were my ceiling.) We take greater risks every day--we live near the San Andreas fault--and this was one risk that wasn't worth obsessing over.

Negative results were a positive thing.
The silver lining is that I learned useful information for future dealings with this acquaintance and the name of an efficient testing lab that I will be happy to use again.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Plus ça change

Honolulu: as power needs grow, the tangles get worse.
Telephone poles and overhead power lines have been a ubiquitous part of the Honolulu landscape ever since I can remember. They're still in every neighborhood a half-century later despite the danger and poor esthetics. The cost of burying infrastructure (electricity, trains) is enormously expensive, so little has been done.

In Napa and Sonoma counties Pacific Gas and Electric faces similar costs to Hawaiian Electric and did not bury most of its power lines.  PG&E is being blamed for starting or at least exacerbating the fires that have raged for over two weeks. The property damage--estimated so far at well under $5 billion--is much less than putting power lines throughout Northern California:
A new underground distribution line across most of PG&E’s territory costs about $1.16 million per mile, according to data filed with state regulators during the utility’s most recent general rate case. That’s more than twice the price of a new overhead line, which costs about $448,800 per mile. Most of the difference comes from the expense of digging a trench for the cable.

Prices rise within cities, where the work is more complex. A 2015 San Francisco report found that recent costs for moving power lines underground in Oakland had averaged $2.8 million per mile, while similar work in San Jose had cost $4.6 million per mile.

And burying high-voltage transmission lines — the kind usually strung from immense steel towers across long distances — can cost as much as $5 million per mile, according to PG&E.
Overhead lines are also easier and cheaper to fix:
Repair crews have no trouble spotting a knocked-over power pole or downed line. But when an underground line fails, operators first have to figure out where the problem occurred, without being able to see it — though sensors attached to the power lines can help narrow things down. Then they have to dig.
After the fires are out, expect to see the usual kabuki: personal stories of loss, public chastisement of PG&E, damage assessments, lawsuits, and settlements paid years from now. By then the new overhead power lines should be up and running.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sod It Was

2 pallets were more than enough
Yesterday's dilemma--whether to pave over the old lawn and/or replace grass with cacti--was easily answered. Our Peninsula 'burb requires a permit for substantial exterior modifications, and I didn't feel like going through the paperwork. So sod it was.

Besides, I'm still hopeful that a return to "permanent" drought is not inevitable, and after years of brown I like the look of green.

Rockification can wait.

Friday, October 20, 2017


The drought ended after one of the wettest winters ever recorded, but the front lawn had passed the point of no return. After five years of restricted watering, seeding the bare patches and heavy soaking failed to rejuvenate the grass over the summer.

The bigger question is what to do after the dead grass was torn out. Some neighbors believe the predictions that California's drought is semi-permanent and have gone the cactus-and-concrete route.

Well, I'm an optimist who likes to keep his options open....

Thursday, October 19, 2017

An Honest Day's Walk

The Apple Watch reminds wearers to stand up every hour because sitting on one's keister for long stretches is harmful to one's health. Even better than standing is walking, which for even short intervals confers significant health benefits:
Research showed that walking for less than two hours a week was linked to a lower mortality rate for all causes compared to being completely sedentary. Walking two and a half to five hours a week showed a 20 percent lower mortality risk.

Walking was also linked to specific types of lower mortality risks, for example, walking more than six hours a week was linked to a 35 percent lower mortality risk from respiratory disease.
If one finds an $11.50-per-hour wage acceptable, the perfect job from a moderate-physical-activity point of view is to be part of Amazon's army of seasonal workers. One blogger describes the experience: [bold added]
There were 4 jobs available: stowing, picking, packing, quality assurance (QA). Each job has it’s own pros and cons and physical challenges. I was a Stower. My job was to place items onto the shelves so they could later be picked after being ordered, and then packaged and shipped out. I averaged 5 miles of walking a day, plus a lot of lifting and repetitive motion with my arms. I didn’t do these other jobs, but from what I gather from coworkers; Pickers walk more than 13 miles a day, Packers stand in 1 spot all day, and QA has to kneel and sit a lot. Each job has a quota to fulfill.
At the cafeteria in Campbellsville, KY (daveandkathy2011)
A significant subset of Amazon's seasonal labor is known as CamperForce, workers who live in recreational vehicles (RVs):
Many of the workers who joined Camper­Force were around traditional retirement age, in their sixties or even seventies. They were glad to have a job, even if it involved walking as many as 15 miles a day on the concrete floor of a warehouse. From a hiring perspective, the RVers were a dream labor force. They showed up on demand and dispersed just before Christmas in what the company cheerfully called a “taillight parade.” They asked for little in the way of benefits or protections. And though warehouse jobs were physically taxing—not an obvious fit for older bodies—recruiters came to see Camper­Force workers’ maturity as an asset. These were diligent, responsible employees. Their attendance rates were excellent.
Bankrupt in 2008, they live in an RV  (Wired)
Seniors who are part of CamperForce likely have had some bad breaks; living in an RV and having to take seasonal work to supplement Social Security and Medicare could not have been the "golden years" they envisioned.
Many had seen their retirement savings vanish in the stock market or had lost homes to foreclosure. Others had watched businesses go under or grappled with unemployment and ageism. A larger number had become full-time RVers or vandwellers because they could no longer afford traditional housing—what they called “sticks and bricks.” They talked about how Social Security wasn’t enough to cover the basic necessities and about the yoke of debt from every imaginable source: medical bills, maxed-out credit cards, even student loans.
Nevertheless, the fact that they persist in trying to make a go of it is inspirational to this observer.

Apple Watch would approve, but I'm sure they don't care.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Not for the Usual Reason

Two-deck Lucky Lucky payoff chart
When I turned 21, I picked up a copy of Beat the Dealer, the landmark 1966 book that showed that it was possible to win at blackjack, and headed for the Nevada casinos.

After several years of mixed results, it became clear that I didn't have what it took to win consistently, namely, a big-enough stake to ride through losing streaks and the willingness to put in hundreds of hours memorizing tables and practicing counting cards (tracking totals that affect betting primarily but can also influence play).

Gambling infrequently, I now go to have fun (yes, really) with money that I can psychologically lose with no regrets. Employing the simple Basic Strategy, which in the long run slightly disfavors the player but is not mentally taxing, I can play for a long time with a stake of, say, $500 in a $10-minimum game.

At Starbucks, Thunder Valley food court.
However, I'm a sucker for high-payoff, low-probability side bets that definitely favor the house--see above reference to fun--and so it was that I found myself betting $5 on the Lucky Lucky side bet on a $25-minimum table at Thunder Valley, outside Sacramento. I expected to blow my $500 in 2 hours, tops, then retire to the Food Court and wait for the other players to finish.

A couple of minutes into the game, the dealer showed the eight of spades as his upcard, while I held the 6 and 7 of spades. I showed my hand ("Is this good?" Yes! he replied), the dealer made the announcement, the pit boss came over to confirm, and $500 was the reward for placing $5 on Lucky Lucky and hitting the suited 6-7-8.

I was done for the day and retired to the Food Court, but not for the usual reason.

Note: true odds for hitting the suited 6-7-8 with two decks are 1 in 5,691 [(104*103*102)/(24*4*2)]

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Retro Carbo

We are fans of Krispy Kreme, especially when the doughnuts are served hot, but steady price increases, plus their diminutive size, made us yearn for a traditional offering last week.

So we made a detour to San Bruno. When we moved to Daly City in the '70's, we made regular stops at Rolling Pin Donuts, and we're happy to confirm that RPD is still in business. (The sign reads "since 1958.")

We ordered a baker's dozen (13 for the price of 12--take that, Krispy Kreme!) of the non-fancy doughnuts, which by the way were plenty good. While prices are slightly higher than KK, two Rolling Pins more than satisfy, whereas your humble blogger has been known to partake of three (or more) Krispy Kremes in one sitting.

Rolling Pin is open "Midnight to Midnight, 7 days a week". You hardly see that any more.

Below is a review from two young foodies who show off their jiu-jitsu moves during the first two minutes ("it was tiring, but I think we had no asthma attacks").

Monday, October 16, 2017

Progress in Education

Intelligent, sentient, machines have been a staple of science fiction since Isaac Asimov began writing about robots in 1939. His robots were for the most part benign because they were programmed to obey the Three Laws of Robotics, but most science fiction is not so rosy.

Sci-fi artificial life that is smarter, faster, and stronger than human beings is often shown as something to be dreaded (see, for example, Blade Runner and Battlestar Galactica). In the real world we see glimmerings of this dystopian future in killer drones, sex with robots, and worries that more jobs will be lost than created by automation.

But surely there are positive applications for human-like machines in science, education, and medicine. SynDaver Labs uses
a library of polymers to craft synthetic cadavers that twitch and bleed like real suffering humans.

Hospitals and med schools use the fakes to teach anatomy and train surgeons, and the most lifelike model is the $95,000 SynDaver Patient. This exquisite corpse can be controlled wirelessly so practitioners can rehearse elaborate medical scenarios in which the patient goes into shock and even “dies.”
Unlike HBO's fantasy Westworld, an amusement park where human beings can torture, rape, and kill robots that look like humans, SynDaver's cadavers cannot think, feel, or remember anything.

At least we hope they can't.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Respite from Their Harangues

Admonitions against self-righteousness ("pot calling the kettle black", "people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones") go back centuries or longer:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? [Matthew 7:3]
The first European colonists brought strict moral codes to the New World, and the Puritan tradition held sway for hundreds of years.

Burt Lancaster won Best Actor in 1961 for
his portrayal of a con-man evangelist.

The philosophical revolt began in literature, then continued in film. Morally compromised clergy became so commonplace in fiction that nowadays it is unusual to read the story of a man of the cloth who is not consumed by lust, avarice, and/or ambition. Real-world revelations of child abuse, adultery, and financial chicanery contributed to the erosion of Christianity's moral authority.

By the end of the 20th century the status of Christianity was so undermined that few clergy had the temerity to pontificate upon the evils of society, preferring to minister to the needs of their congregation and focus on individuals' spiritual health. (To be sure, some issues like late-term abortion did rouse conservative Christians from their torpor, but those occasions were rare.)

There was a strain of Christianity--endemic in my Episcopal Church--that embraced progressivism (Marxism rechristened) and gave full-throated advocacy to identity politics, the denunciation of "structural" racism/sexism/economic inequality, and the use of State power to rectify perceived injustice.

Academia, Hollywood, and mass media merged with progressive Christianity to create a new priestly caste, the educated philosopher-kings who marched on the right side of history. After Donald Trump was elected in November, the outrage from these morally superior beings has been broadcast unceasingly over all TV, radio, print, and internet channels.

Until last Sunday, that is, when the deeds of Harvey Weinstein came to light. He was one of their spiritual ringleaders, and his crimes--moral and social, if not legal---were far more severe and extensive than any Donald Trump might have committed.

The priestly caste will not be shaken from their worldview by the actions of one, two, or ten Harvey Weinsteins, but here's hoping that for a little while we will be granted respite from their harangues.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Too Soon

Prediction: expect certain wine-tasting terms (smoky, crisp) to become more prevalent in the coming years.

Poor taste! (Are we talking about the wine or this post?)

The fires are still burning; it's too soon.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Paying Attention Now

Bay Area residents were able to look at the
sun all week without special eclipse glasses.
Yesterday's throwaway line about the Bay Area's smoky haze ("Do you want to breathe like the people in China?") isn't a laughing matter. The allergist strongly recommended that we stay indoors, and the asthmatics in the family are wheezing, even with the air filters running continuously.

Popular Mechanics - The Air Quality in San Francisco Right Now Is As Bad As Beijing:
"These fires are bringing Beijing to the Bay Area and are allowing us to see what they experience around the clock," says Richard Muller, a UC Berkeley professor of physics...."By published estimates, it's killing 4,400 people a day in China alone. People die prematurely in China every day and we pay no attention."
Meanwhile businesses and government officials are cancelling events:
many schools decided to close Friday and organizers canceled weekend events, including an Oktoberfest in Walnut Creek and a fitness festival and half marathon in San Francisco.

Sports teams are monitoring the air quality as they prepare to host games. Some members of the Oakland Raiders wore masks during workouts Thursday.

The NFL has been exploring options to move Sunday's game between the Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers if it becomes necessary.

Oakland, some 45 miles (72 kilometers) south of the fires, has been blanketed by smoke.

Officials at the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford are monitoring the air quality as weekend football games approach.
The fires in the North Bay aren't contained, and the forecasters predict that the winds will pick up again. If it weren't for various responsibilities, we would have taken off for the weekend.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Updated Warning

Chronicle: [bold added]
people in the East Bay are reporting ash falling from the sky on Wednesday afternoon, adding more pollution to the area's smoke-filled sky.

The gray flakes are covering windshields, outdoor furniture, backyards, trees.
We've had some ash fall in San Mateo County, albeit much less than in San Francisco and the East Bay.

Air quality red alert for the Peninsula---what is this, Los Angeles?
The ash has contributed to the particulate matter. [bold added]
“We are reporting the worst air quality ever recorded for smoke in many parts of the Bay Area,” said Tom Flannigan, spokesman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. “This is similar to what you see in Beijing China in bad air days there.”
20th century warning to American kids: Do you want to starve like the people in China? 21st century version: Do you want to breathe like the people in China?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hollywood: the Tribe Protects Its Own

The reports of sexual harassment by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein have escalated to rape:
Mr. Weinstein was accused of rape by three women and sexual harassment by 10 others in an article published by the New Yorker magazine on Tuesday morning. Soon after the article appeared online, the New York Times reported that several more actresses—including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie—said the mogul had propositioned or harassed them at early points in their careers.
When thinking about how "everyone knew"--at least in the media and entertainment industries--what Harvey Weinstein did for about 20 years, I can't help but think of what happened to Joe Paterno.

Alumni and players have called for the restoration
of Joe Paterno's statue, removed in 2012  (LA Times)
Joe Paterno was the winningest coach (409 wins) in college football history and led the Penn State Nittany Lions to two National Championships and 37 bowl appearances in 46 seasons. When his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, was arrested in 2011 on 52 counts of child molestation that occurred from 1994 to 2009, Joe Paterno was fired. Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts in 2012.

There was some evidence that Joe Paterno knew second-hand about Sandusky's acts in 2001. He did comply with the State law at the time to report this knowledge to his superior, the Athletic Director, but did not follow up. Joe Paterno died of cancer a couple of months after he was fired, an ignominious end to a great career.

Coach Paterno's name was removed from buildings and awards, attempts were made (but ultimately failed) to deny him contractual compensation, and Penn State was fined $60 million by the NCAA. Perhaps the greatest symbol of his fall was the taking down of his statue by the University.

Some of the most famous names in Hollywood, as well as national media organizations, knew about Harvey Weinstein's crimes for over 15 years. Harvey Weinstein deserves, as did Jerry Sandusky, whatever sentences will be meted out to him, but will any of Weinstein's enablers suffer a fall equivalent to Joe Paterno's? Will any organizations be fined millions of dollars for covering up the ruination of young girls' lives? Will anyone have to return their Oscars?

We already know the answer: the tribe protects its own.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"It was a hell-storm of smoke and ash"

We are 60 miles south of Novato, the closest of the fires, yet we could smell the smoke. Friends in San Francisco said that ash was falling on their house.

Unlike previous fires that have struck unpopulated areas, these have spread through wine country and North Bay cities.
A swarm of fires supercharged by powerful winds ripped through Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties Monday, killing at least 10 people, injuring dozens of others, destroying more than 1,500 homes and businesses, and turning prominent wineries to ash.

Starting in the middle of the night, the fires hopscotched across neighborhoods, raced across fields and jumped freeways. Wind gusts up to 70 mph pushed walls of flames nearly 100 feet high, throwing embers ahead like hot fingers into strip malls and subdivisions. Many people who fled the surge had enough time to grab car keys, perhaps a pet, but not much more.
Winery building in Napa County (Chronicle photo)
And it's far from over.

Today the only thing we could do was head to Costco to stock up on wine. Wineries have been destroyed, thereby reducing both inventories and production capacity for years.

After the situation is contained, we'll look at ways we can assist the recovery.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Give Me Some of That

Tied for NFL's worst record (0-5): you might kneel, too (Chron)
Vice President Mike Pence walked out of the Indianapolis-San Francisco game yesterday when twenty-three 49ers knelt during the national anthem. One of the kneelers, 49ers safety Eric Reid, said after the game: [bold added]
“He know that our team has the most players protesting, so he stopped to watch us do it and left in an effort to try to thwart what we’re trying to accomplish,” Reid said. “This is a case in point for systematic oppression. This is a powerful man with a huge platform and this is what he chooses to do. Fly in on taxpayer money to confuse the issue that we’re trying to control the narrative on.

“It’s really disheartening.”
Eric Reid doesn't like a system that "oppresses" him with a salary of $5,676,000 in 2017. By the way, the Vice President of the United States makes $230,700, four percent (4%) of Mr. Reid's compensation.

If this is oppression, I'd like a helping of that, too.

Afterthought: "control the narrative on"---it looks like Eric Reid has picked up a little critical theory from some newfound protester-friends. It's impossible for your side to control the narrative now, Eric, and besides, they are not your friends and certainly not football's.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

They Don't Have to Be There

Politics was the leading cause of stress in 2014 (outsidethebeltway)

The seeping of politics into the workplace causes stress that is harmful to health, writes Deepak Chopra. [bold added]
talking about politics has become the norm. Critics may complain that outrageous behavior from the White House is being normalized, but at a more hidden level, stress is being normalized too...the vast majority of lifestyle disorders, from heart disease and stroke to type 2 diabetes and probably cancer, are incremental diseases that take years or decades to develop before symptoms appear. The two main culprits of this are low-grade inflammation and chronic stress.
Deepak Chopra has helpful suggestions about reducing workplace stress brought on by politics:
  • Focus on one thing at a time. Don’t multi-task. For example, don’t read political news while you’re working on a difficult project.
  • Keep your focus relaxed instead of tense, which begins by working without interruptions in a quiet environment.
  • Lose physical tension by standing up once an hour, preferably combined with a few stretches and a short walk.
  • When a situation gets tense—especially if it’s a political argument—walk away as soon as you can.
  • Take downtime three times a day when you can be quiet and alone. Take some deep breaths and center yourself.
  • Maintain contact with the people who matter most to you for at least an hour a day, combining phone calls, texts, emails, and best of all, personal engagement. Don’t talk about politics.
  • Stay away from the people at work who create pressure, show no regard for the comfort level of others, and force their politics on you.
  • Football and religion---for some people it's the same thing!---used to be a refuge. No longer is that true in the NFL. My church isn't one either; the majority of resolutions to be decided at the Diocesan Convention in San Francisco are political (in bold):
    Resolution 1: Repeal of Mandatory Retirement Age for Priests and Deacons
    Resolution 2: Becoming a Sanctuary Church
    Resolution 3: Becoming a Sanctuary Diocese

    Resolution 4: Church-Wide Paid Family Leave Policy
    Resolution 5: Task Force on Paid Family Leave
    Resolution 6: Climate Change, Carbon Tax
    Resolution 7: A Just Peace in the Holy Land
    Resolution 8: Supporting Transgender Access
    Resolution 9: Climate Change, Corporate Governance
    Mr. Chopra said to "stay away from the people at work who create pressure, show no regard for the comfort level of others, and force their politics on you."  Football fans and Episcopalians are following that advice, especially because, unlike work, they don't have to be there.

    Saturday, October 07, 2017

    That New Phone Fever

    iPhone 6: still fine.
    The iPhone 6 is a perfectly fine smartphone, as we noted in July. Mine is fairly new, replaced under the AppleCare extended warranty this May.

    We ought to have the discipline to hold off buying a new iPhone 8 or iPhone X until 2018. Reports on the new phones' reliability are mixed. But I'm getting that new-phone fever....

    Another reason I shouldn't upgrade is because the 8 or X would be even "better" at hijacking my mind.
    Not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices. As the brain grows dependent on the technology, the research suggests, the intellect weakens.[snip]

    "Mind-blowing": Apple's right again.
    In an April article in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, Dr. Ward and his colleagues wrote that the “integration of smartphones into daily life” appears to cause a “brain drain” that can diminish such vital mental skills as “learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.” Smartphones have become so entangled with our existence that, even when we’re not peering or pawing at them, they tug at our attention, diverting precious cognitive resources.
    The effects of smartphone addiction--or just heavy use--have become worrisome to those who have designed many of its features:
    many of these younger technologists are weaning themselves off their own products, sending their children to elite Silicon Valley schools where iPhones, iPads and even laptops are banned. They appear to be abiding by a Biggie Smalls lyric from their own youth about the perils of dealing crack cocaine: never get high on your own supply.
    As if the iPhone wasn't engrossing enough, the new models come with souped-up augmented reality.

    I shouldn't upgrade if I know what's good for myself, but why start now?

    Friday, October 06, 2017

    Golden Sanctuary State: Information is a Two-Way Street

    Est. 2.7 million undocumented in CA (Image from KVPR)   
    California is officially a sanctuary state: [bold added]
    The law bars law enforcement officers in the state from asking about a person’s immigration status or participating in any joint task force with federal officials for the purpose of enforcing immigration laws.

    The new law makes changes to the state’s Trust Act by barring local jails from holding an inmate for immigration authorities if that person is cleared for release on their state criminal cases. The law also limits the list of offenses that make undocumented immigrants subject to having their impending release passed along to federal authorities.
    One counter-move by the Federal Government, namely, withholding payments to California, has been much discussed and will be challenged in court if attempted. But money isn't the only weapon.

    The information flow from the U.S. Government to the States is massive. California benefits from economic (e.g., interest rates, tax audits, census), scientific (e.g., weather, USGS), transportation (e.g., aviation, shipping), and other data, often delivered in real time, the lack of which would severely hamper the functioning of State government.

    For example, the State piggy-backs on IRS audits of individuals; a balance due to the U.S. Treasury is followed up by an invoice from the Franchise Tax Board a month or two later. If the Treasury withheld audit results, California could not staff up independently to review the taxes of its residents and lose millions of dollars each year.

    As it shuts off communication to the Federal Government, our State should remember that information is a two-way street.

    Thursday, October 05, 2017

    Guns and Pancakes

    Next door to friendly, well-maintained Awful Annie's is the friendly, well-maintained Lincoln Gun Exchange, the "Friendliest Gun Dealer in Northern CA".

    Both are tenants of the 137-year-old Lincoln Brand Feeds building, which will soon undergo renovations.

    Owner Bill Falconi:
    “Not much is going to change. The building will look the same; we’ll keep the same tenants. We’re not going to split it up or tear it down.”
    Guns and pancakes, side by side.

    Toto, I've a feeling we're not in the Haight-Ashbury any more.

    Wednesday, October 04, 2017

    Awful Annie's

    French toast
    We stopped at Awful Annie's, a Little Orphan Annie-themed breakfast and lunch restaurant near Sacramento.

    Your humble blogger has been cutting down on sugar and other carbohydrates, but glances at other tables revealed that nearly everyone was ordering pancakes or waffles.

    At the waitress' suggestion I ordered French toast. According to culinary law, dietary restrictions are unenforceable away from home.

    A little maple syrup and a cup of coffee rounded out an unexpectedly pleasant breakfast.

    We were not disappointed.

    Tuesday, October 03, 2017

    Still Appealing

    The streets in our neighborhood are being repaved and resealed, which meant that any cars we wanted to use during the next two days had to be parked at least a block away. It was as good an excuse as any to take a road trip.

    A full tank of gas, an overnight bag, an open calendar, and some spending money---some pleasures of 40 years ago still appeal.

    Monday, October 02, 2017

    Monday Musing

    Sunday, October 01, 2017

    In Worlds That We Cannot Imagine.

    Unlike last year, the weather cooperated--sunny, mild, and slightly breezy.

    For this year's Blessing of the Animals at the Foster City Dog Park I distributed notices on different platforms: a listing on the marquee (the City's electronic billboard), a post on Craigslist, handbills in a few locations, and an ad in the Islander, Foster City's free newspaper (print only).

    Whether any of those actions had any effect, I couldn't tell. About 40 dogs and their owners, an above-average turnout, showed up to be blessed by the priests in the spirit of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals.

    800 years after he lived, the humble saint who gave up every possession is honored in many lands unknown to European civilization. 800 years from now, if humankind exists, Francis will likely be remembered in worlds that we cannot imagine.